Stirring the Pot

An interloper tries to inject a little color into Shepherd Plaza's floundering nightclub scene and pays the price.

Obviously, Robinson was encouraged by the Wednesday crowd at the Voodoo Lounge, and less impressed with the turnout on other nights, including a Latin-themed Thursday that never got off the ground and provoked more grumbling around the complex. In January '98, he began carrying over the urban theme to Saturday and Sunday. After all, it made perfect financial sense.

"If I like rock, that's cool, but I'm not into this for a personal ego thing," says Robinson. "I'm in this to make money."

With his weekends starting to rage, Robinson was on a roll. He went to his landlord asking permission to host a special Mardi Gras event on Fat Tuesday. That's when Robinson's conflict with Trammell Crow's company began.

"They wanted to know what I was doing; they didn't like my ads," says Robinson of his meeting with Meinzer and another Trammell Crow associate. "They wanted to know who I was trying to attract."

At first, says Robinson, Trammell Crow said no to his Mardi Gras request, but ultimately property management relented and he got clearance to hold his bash. The party -- which was held in the club and parking lot and was co-sponsored by the Box -- went off without a hitch. Sometime later, though, Trammell Crow came to Robinson with a proposition. "They said they wanted the Voodoo Lounge closed," he says. "They didn't like the clientele, and [asked] would I be interested in doing something that would be a better fit for the complex."

While Meinzer admits there was dialogue between Robinson and her company and that some of it has involved problems with his patrons (primarily loitering), she dismisses any accusations that race played a role in the concerns. "All we're trying to do is create synergy at the shopping center. We would never single out a particular race, saying they're the ones causing the problems. There was some negotiation as far as our trying to reposition the shopping center, but it didn't work out -- as far as trying to consolidate club space. It was a tenant mix [issue]."

According to Robinson, those negotiations started out promisingly but soon deteriorated. First there was the proposal to expand the Voodoo Lounge space and turn it into a sports bar (an idea Robinson was willing to think about). Then, there was the possibility of changing themes and moving into the old Ballroom locale. Finally, says Robinson, Trammell Crow cut to the chase and offered to pay him to get lost. "The last thing I wanted was to be bought out," he says. "I like the area."

But by that point, Robinson was so fed up, he agreed: "So I started cutting back on my advertising, held back on any new changes."

Eventually, though, all proposals dried up completely. Sources at Trammell Crow say the negotiations broke down because Robinson has virtually no capital, making him a poor financial risk. It was at about this time, says Robinson, that word had already gotten out about the nightclub's imminent (and false) demise. "I was supposed to be closing at the end of May," says Robinson, "out before the summer started."

Of course, it's well into the summer, and the Voodoo Lounge isn't gone yet. Robinson has sunk thousands of dollars into interior renovations and has overhauled his entertainment lineup in a way that -- while less dominated by hip-hop -- still isn't likely to please the folks at Trammell Crow: Starting this month, Tuesdays and Fridays are set aside for rap, hip-hop and R&B, hosted by DJs from the Box; Sunday is Latin night, with DJ Juanito from La Boom Club in Cancun; for the rest of the week, the emphasis is on a mix of dance music for all races and cultures. Another format change sure to grab some attention is Wednesday's male and female striptease contest, for which that new stage and shadow box ought to come in handy. Top prize is $300.

But one Trammell Crow representative who preferred to remain anonymous believes that the Voodoo Lounge's time has come and gone -- and that competition is the only villain. "The bottom line is, his demise -- or, at least, his trending downward from his peak -- is more attributable to the dynamics of the club business. The Roxy is absolutely knocking 'em dead, and that's all his old customers."

Still, Robinson has no plans of fading quietly into the sunset.
"Here, if you're doing well, they try and shut you down. I'm not backing down," he says. "They're never going to get the A-crowd back here. None of these clubs are anything special."

Except, of course, for the Voodoo Lounge.

E-mail Hobart Rowland at hobart_rowland@houstonpress.com.

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